Plugging Leakages: Innovative technologies and uptake

Innovative technologies and uptake

The existing water pipeline infrastructure in India is coming under increased pressure due to increasing urbanisation and growing population. Currently, more than 40 per cent of the water produced in several cities of the country is wasted before reaching the end consumer due to leakage or theft. For this reason, many water utilities and urban local bodies (ULBs) in the country are now moving towards smart and real-time monitoring of pipeline infrastructure.

Pipelines are widely used for the transportation of fresh water to household, commercial and industrial consumers. Pipelines are designed to withstand several environmental loading conditions to ensure safe and reliable distribution from the point of production to the shore or the distribution depot. However, leaks in pipeline networks are one of the major causes for concern, as they can lead to serious ecological disasters, human casualties and financial losses.

Technology uptake

In India, the government and ULBs are making constant efforts to reduce pipeline leakages by using the latest technologies, which are supposed to allow inspectors to precisely determine the location and severity of a leakage. Industries are also becoming receptive to the idea of deploying advanced technologies to treat effluents, as well as recycling and reusing effluents for industrial purposes and green belt development.

Different methods are being adopted for detecting leakages in the pipeline network, with acoustic detection remaining the primary one. Acoustic leak detection is described as the systematic method of using listening equipment to survey the distribution system, identify leak sounds and pinpoint the exact locations of hidden underground leaks. Exterior methods ma­inly involve the use of specific sensing devi­ces to monitor the external part of pipelines. This includes the fibre optic method, which in­volves the installation of fibre optic sensors al­o­ng the exterior of the pipeline. They can be ins­­talled as distributed or point sensors to ex­tensively detect the physical and chemical pro­perties of hydrocarbon spillage along the pipe­lines. Further, sensors, ultrasonic flowme­ters and bulk meters need to be installed at all poin­ts of the distribution chain. SmartBall technology is also being used by utilities to detect very small leak points. Other techniques inclu­de tethered acoustic leak and air pocket inspection technology.

The Kerala Water Authority (KWA) has ad­op­ted the Sahara Drag Chute for easier and more effective detection of leakages. This technology requires the equipment to be tethered to the surface while the sensor flows along with the water. A certain velocity of water has to be maintained for the functioning of the equipment, which consists of a small drag chute that enables the movement of the sensor. KWA also uses SmartBall technology to detect leakages. A SmartBall can travel with the flow of the water for up to 12 hours, collecting information about leaks over a long stretch of pipeline in a single deployment. However, due to the condition of pipelines in the city, the SmartBall cannot be used for long distance services.

In December 2020, ABB announced that it will be providing digital water management solutions in Karnataka’s Koppal district. The project is being led by L&T Construction for the Karnataka government. It will be using ABB’s end-to-end solutions to help the local water authority track, measure and optimise water use in the district. The solution includes 635 flowmeters and a supervisory control and data acquisition system to monitor and analyse daily flow consumption patterns. It will also identify possible leaks and notify the central control room on a real-time basis.

In August 2021, Tirupati became the fourth city in the country and the first in south India to receive the Water Plus certification, as part of the Swachh Bharat Mission. The Municipal Cor­poration of Tirupati relies on a computer tech­nology-based complaint mechanism regar­ding choked sewers, leakage, waterlogging, septic tank cleaning, uncovered manholes, etc.

Meanwhile, the Manimajra water supply pro­ject, being developed in Chandigarh, invol­ves the installation of smart water meters for every connection, which will help minimise wa­ter leakage and theft through live updates. The project is being developed by a joint venture between S.B.E. Engineering and Infrastructure Private Limited and Tapi Prestressed Products Limited. It is expected to entail an investment of Rs 1.62 billion.


Leak detection is a field that continues to grow and advance with the use of both established technology and emerging methods. The performance of the various pipeline leakage de­tec­tion methods varies depending on the app­roaches, operational conditions and pipeline networks. Going forward, leak detection solution providers should integrate their technologies and customise services to meet custo­mers’ demands, and delve into the investmen­ts made for the development of smart cities and resilient infrastructure.